Pro-transit coalition GetOnBoard B.C. stays upbeat

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      Some think it’s unlikely voters will approve new taxes and fees that would go to transit.

      But the campaign director of the pro-transit coalition GetOnBoard B.C. suggests that next year’s referendum could succeed.

      According to Lee Haber, putting together a package of transit improvements that voters across Metro Vancouver will support is crucial.

      “The important thing is that it’s regional, and that it’s clear that there’s something in it for everybody,” Haber told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Haber stated that the discussion so far has focused too much on funding sources that nick people’s wallets. He said the emphasis should be on transit projects that are needed by residents across the Lower Mainland.

      GetOnBoard B.C. is a broad alliance of residents, students, workers, businesses, and academics. Its members include former Vancouver councillor Peter Ladner, and the Surrey Board of Trade is one of its founding partners.

      “Where referendums have been successful in the past—there’s several examples in the United States—the funding has been very clearly tied to specific transit improvements,” said Haber, who is working on his master’s degree at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning.

      He cited as an example the 2008 referendum in Los Angeles County. Voters there supported a half-cent sales tax that took effect in July 2009.

      According to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the measure will raise $40 billion over 30 years for traffic relief and transportation upgrades. The biggest chunk, at 35 percent, will go to new rail and bus rapid-transit projects. Twenty percent will be dedicated to bus operations.

      “It’s clear that people, voters, will support additional funding for transit when it’s clearly demonstrated as to where it will go and how it will benefit them,” Haber said.

      TransLink’s 2014 Base Plan and Outlook notes that population growth in Metro Vancouver overtook increases in transit service starting in 2009.

      “Per capita service levels have begun to decline and will continue to do so without new funding,” reads a document released by the transportation agency on October 4.

      TransLink also points out that two of its biggest revenue sources—transit fares and property taxes increases—are “limited by statute to a degree that is inadequate to keep pace with the combination of inflation and population growth”.

      A third major revenue source—fuel tax—has been “dramatically affected by the general move toward fuel-efficient vehicles, more walking, cycling and transit use, and leakage of fuel purchases to areas outside the region”.

      In August, transit advocates Paul Hillsdon and Nathan Pachal released “Leap Ahead: A Transit Plan for Metro Vancouver”, which indicated that a half-percent regional sales tax would yield $250 million per year.

      According to the authors, the money would cover the region’s share of the capital and full operating costs for new transit projects. These include rapid rail to UBC along Vancouver’s Broadway corridor, two light-rail lines south of the Fraser River, seven new rapid-bus routes, the Burnaby Mountain gondola, and upgrades to the SkyTrain’s Expo Line. A half-percent regional sales tax would average out to 35 cents per day for each resident in the region, the paper states.

      GetOnBoard B.C. is gearing up to be a “Yes” force in the referendum. The coalition hasn’t yet decided what ballot question it favours.

      “The funding source we believe should be one that doesn’t punish a particular group,” Haber said. “It should be one that is, of course, sustainable. We’d like this funding to be one that grows with the economy.”

      The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation previously identified a regional sales tax as one of five funding options for transit. The four others were a vehicle registration levy, a regional carbon tax, property developers paying through a scheme called “land value capture”, and road tolls.

      But according to council chair and District of North Vancouver mayor Richard Walton, it’s unlikely that the group will be advancing a ballot question in a referendum it didn’t ask for.

      “Our position is this is not good policy,” Walton told the Straight in a phone interview. “That hasn’t changed.”

      He said that the 2014 referendum on transit funding mandated by the provincial government will place municipal politicians in a difficult position because it’s an election year. Whether it’s transit, sewage treatment, or water, “anything which goes to the public and says we want an additional fee, additional tax,” Walton said, “it’s obviously going to be a difficult sell.”



      Time for a Mega City.

      Oct 9, 2013 at 11:05am

      Why not have an electable regional government? Regional issues, like transportation, will never be resolved until the entire region falls under one electable government. Appointing Mayors to a board is not the answer. A true democratic system is.

      “It’s clear that people, voters, will support additional funding for transit when it’s clearly demonstrated as to where it will go and how it will benefit them,” Haber said."

      What a novel idea. Just look how messed up our transportation planning is. Their plan is to make driving so miserable that people will bike or take transit regardless of the practicality or service provided.

      For example, the current regional transportation head is upset and issued a presser because replacing the Massey tunnel will result in decreased congestion. You can also look to what Gregor is doing on Burrard St. His private bike lane is causing traffic jams never seen before in Vancouver. Now I'm supposed to volunteer to pay exponentially more money to receive ever decreasing service. Why would anyone vote to pay more for longer commutes? It's idiotic and why all these smarmy academics and government feudal lords are sweating over the referendum. Their transportation planning method of punishing drivers is going to be devastating for them when voters actually have a say.


      Oct 9, 2013 at 11:38am

      I'm voting No on any proposal that doesn't involve dismantling Translink. Transit needs to be given back to municipalities, who are far better equipped to deal with the transportation needs of their voters.

      Evil Eye

      Oct 9, 2013 at 1:50pm

      TransLink's dated management, which focuses on the out-dated SkyTrain model has bankrupted the transit authority.

      Today, modern light rail has proven to be far more economical and flexible in operation and made SkyTrain obsolete. With only 7 SkyTrain type systems built since the late 1970's, is proof that TransLink has not got a clue about modern public transport practice and philosophy.

      To date we have spent $9 billion on 2 SkyTrain and 1 Canada Line mini-metro lines; the same amount of money could have built a minimum of 9 light rail lines, carrying more people to more destinations; offering a real alternative to the car.

      A "None of the above" choice in the upcoming TransLink referendum is a no brainer, as TransLink, must be made to disappear; they couldn't even operate a whorehouse at a profit!

      Richard Campbell

      Oct 9, 2013 at 3:21pm

      Transit investment is critical for the economy, environment and people of the region. Time to get past the divisive debates over SkyTrain and LRT. Each has its place. On Broadway, the demand is high enough for a SkyTrain subway and it will avoid forcing tens of thousands of people to transfer at Commercial. As such, demand is much higher that that of an LRT with a forced transfer.

      In Surrey, the demand is smaller so LRT will work just fine.

      Anyway, support more funding for transit by signing the petition at


      Oct 9, 2013 at 5:07pm

      It is crucial that this referendum passes and that our region continues on its path of being the most livable. There are not enough "efficiencies" in the world to build the transit infrastructure that we need (including the Broadway Line, Surrey's Light Rail, and whatever else).

      I am optimistic about the future of this referendum. Lee is right, there needs to put forward a compelling vision for transit in this region. If we are given that, I think that people will be more than willing to support such an initiative.

      No one asked for this referendum, it was really a way for the provincial government to pass the buck, but it does give us an opportunity to Leap Ahead, and really get our transit system built out quickly.

      Roland Tanglao

      Oct 9, 2013 at 5:10pm

      what richard campbell said: yes to unity, yes to both skytrain and lrt, yes to surrey transit, no to referenda unless they include roads and all forms of transit

      Evil Eye

      Oct 9, 2013 at 5:11pm

      Sorry Richard, you show the same dated, Vancouver centric planning that has got us in this mess in the first place.

      Did you know that light rail can carry more people than SkyTrain?

      Did you know that Ottawa's under construction LRT can carry almost 50% the number of customers than our SkyTrain?

      This SkyTrain for Vancouver and LRT for Surrey is juvenile at best - a wah, wah, wah, we want our SkyTrain and we want everyone else to pay for it!

      Here is the real problem, TransLink is following a very dated light-metro policy, which has been shown to be very expensive and unproductive. But we build more, contrary to what works.

      SFU has provided the phoney academic nosecone, called densification, that has supported our farcical transit planning, based on Lysenkoism, which is the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.

      SkyTrain is nothing more than a sop to land speculators and land developers, who want to build massive high rise edifices at every SkyTrain station. LRT is a transit workhorse, that has a proven record in attracting new ridership, while SkyTrain and the Canada line depends on recycled bus riders for its ridership. 80% of SkyTrain's ridership first take the bus, against about a rail transit norm of 40%.

      Again, subways do not attract ridership and are only used when traffic flows on a surface transit line exceed about 20,000 pphpd; traffic flows on Broadway are under 5,000 pphpd. Subways are very expensive to build and to maintain and for many, subways increase commute times, because of the distance between stations.

      Only 7 Skytrain systems built since 1978 and the Canada Line is the only heavy-rail metro, built as a light-metro and has less capacity than a streetcar. The cost to increase the capacity of the Canada Line, about $1.5 billion or the cost of a stand alone LRT line from Stanley Park in Vancouver to Steveston and Ironwood Mall in Richmond.

      SkyTrain and TransLink's user unfriendly transit policies (We are not happy, until you are not happy) has made TransLink the pariah it is today. Translink doesn't have a funding problem, it has a spending problem.

      Matt Foulger

      Oct 9, 2013 at 5:19pm

      The transit referendum will be the decision that defines the future of this region for decades to come. What kind of region do we want to build for our children? I personally would like to create an economy that works, a healthy environment that keeps producing wealth, and communities where people can live affordably and age in place. Sustainable transit funding makes this future possible, but without transit expansion, we're stacking the deck against ourselves for no good reason.

      We simply can't afford not to invest in transit. No regional economy is going to be able to compete in the 21st century unless it invests in the most affordable way to move the most people in the least amount of time. Transit is a no brainer for business owners, and also very empowering for the working class, students and families. Plus, we have no room left to build any more roads or lose valuable real estate to more parking lots. We can't scale up infrastructure that's designed solely for single occupancy vehicles.

      But this is NOT a battle between drivers and transit riders. People who drive frequently will benefit enormously from transit expansion because it will take other drivers off the road and relieve congestion. We also need to allow the free movement of commercial vehicles around the region, and without transit it's a lost cause.

      If you want to help win the referendum and build a region that works for all, join us at GetOnBoard BC.

      Eric Doherty

      Oct 9, 2013 at 5:19pm

      The key issue is increasing funding for transit, which is essential for the livability and affordability of our region. It is also essential to shift spending away from road and freeway building to transit given the ocean acidification and climate crises (both caused by burning fossil fuels). The $3 billion or so Massey Tunnel replacement project shows that the money for transit is available, if transit becomes the transportation priority.

      The provincial government has promised to return more power over TransLink to locally elected officials. This is important too, but having great local governance over a shrinking transit system would be still be a disaster.

      The fact that there are multiple good options for all the proposed rapid transit lines in the region and no 'preferred options' have yet been selected (including in Surrey/Langley, the 41st/49th corridor, and the Broadway corridor) is a secondary point. See

      Without the money on the table no rapid transit lines will be built, and both conventional bus service and HandyDART will be cut.

      Evil Eye

      Oct 9, 2013 at 10:14pm

      The key issue is building a needless $5 billion subway under Broadway, so Vancouver can think it is a world class city. To date, rapid transit has not taken cars off the road, nor has it attracted people to transit and with this track record we want to throw more money at this bureaucracy?

      TransLink is desperately trying to hide 14 years of piss poor planning and provincial government interference, by doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result.

      Transit by TransLink concentrates transit users along SkyTrain and B-Line corridors to give the false appearance of more people using transit and it isn’t reducing the percentage of vehicle use which is the same today as it was in 1994 (57%).

      It costs about $500 each month to put someone onto transit and TransLink only recovers about one-third of this cost from transit users on average; whereas, TransLink only recovers about 6% of the cost of transit from students on the U-Pass program. Taxpayers subsidize 70% of the cost of transit on average, and every person on transit is a drain on the economy. In addition, the heavy transit buses ruin the roads to increase the cost to municipalities for road maintenance. Ironically, the municipalities pay TransLink for transit service to have TransLink destroy their roads in return. Transit does not reduce the requirement for roads and leads to increased costs for more roads due the net reduction in road space by transit.

      If TransLink gets approval for more tax monies from the referendum, it will empower the planning bureaucrats to waste even more money on dated and unworkable transit planning and within a few years, Translink will be back whinging for more tax monies.

      Sadly, TransLink needs tough love to improve and tough love means no more new revenue.